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Trapping the Disease of Escape

Barbara Bensoussan

Moshe Yachnes, founder of a frum rehab center, is one person on the frontlines who believes addicts can learn recovery skills and achieve the sobriety they deserve

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

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TURNAROUND “Aside from prenatal drug exposure, people aren’t born addicts. The problem doesn’t arise overnight, and the cure doesn’t come overnight. But, when the addict can eventually come to identify his triggers and reactions, he can turn his life around” (Photos: Josh Ritchie)

I t’s just about impossible to ignore media accounts of the growing concern over the abuse of opioids— drugs that act on the nervous system to relieve pain, the continued use of which can lead to physical dependence. Heroin is one type, but the increasing availability and affordability of powerful drugs such as oxycodone and others make addiction an easy step away — irrespective of social class or religious affiliation.

With 64,000 overdose deaths in the United States last year, and a whopping $504 billion in economic costs, the opioid crisis is clearly a bitter pill to swallow. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that for every overdose death, there were another 30 overdose cases that weren’t fatal. Emergency rooms saw a 99 percent increase in opioid-related visits between 2005 and 2014.

The frum community has not remained insulated from this epidemic. Rabbi Zvi Gluck, founder of the crisis intervention organization Amudim, says that in 2017 alone, the organization counted 177 verified deaths from overdose of people under 35. (He says that due to family reputation issues, deaths of people over 35 are not categorized by substance abuse.) In the first two weeks of 2018 alone, Amudim opened 18 active new cases of addiction from around the US.

According to the National Institutes of Health, heroin is the drug of choice for young people looking for an avenue of escape from dealing with difficult life situations.

“Addictions treatment is about consistency, not intensity”

But addiction to other opioids, even such common medications such as codeine and other pain relievers, are prevalent in people already in their fifties and sixties who start taking them for chronic pain and subsequently become addicted. Pressed for time, many doctors have found it easier to write a prescription for meds than to seek more creative solutions for chronic pain. Yet those patients are prone to suicide if the drugs are cut off and the chronic pain and withdrawal are too difficult for most people to tolerate.

“The peak of doctors prescribing opioids came around 2012. After that, they began cutting back,” says Dr. Akiva Perlman, a professor at Long Island University who works with substance abuse. “Back then, overdoses were mostly from prescription meds. Now, 60 percent of overdoses are from other drugs, because people who can’t get prescription drugs find alternatives on the street.”

 

Drugs Don’t Discriminate

These frightening statistics propelled addictions therapist Moshe Yachnes, who for the last three years served as corporate director of clinical programming for Sunspire Health — a national company operating ten facilities designed to help addicts from the detoxification stage through outpatient reentry into functioning society — to open a rehab center for frum men in South Florida. With addiction in the larger Orthodox Jewish community hitting crisis proportions, Yachnes was desperate to create a facility geared for this sector — after all, addiction doesn’t discriminate. And so, with the help of investors, he launched Onward Living, a residential and outpatient hybrid facility for Jewish addicts in Boca Raton. It currently has ten slots and hopes to expand. (Yachnes would eventually like to open a facility for women as well.)

“Aside from prenatal drug exposure, people aren’t born addicts. The problem doesn’t arise overnight, and the cure doesn’t come overnight,” he explains from his sunny office in Boca Raton. “But,” he qualifies, “when the addict can eventually come to identify his triggers and reactions, he can turn his life around.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 697)

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